A Nation of Distracted Drivers and Walkers?

My daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver in 2009. It was daytime and she was walking across the street in a crosswalk when she was struck by a 58 year-old man who ran a stop sign. He said he never saw her. Since that time, my wife and I have made it our mission to change driving attitudes and raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. But a new report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) should be a wake up call that we need to also address distracted walking.

The GHSA study suggests that we are a nation of distracted drivers and distracted walkers. It is routine to see others looking at their phones while walking in hallways, on sidewalks and while crossing busy intersections. It's also common to see drivers talking on their cell phones, texting, eating breakfast or applying makeup while behind the wheel. So the fact that traffic fatalities jumped 8.1 percent last year and pedestrian deaths are increasing at the fastest rate recorded should be no surprise to any of us. But, as a result, there are now many more families mourning the loss of loved ones killed as pedestrians.

Of course, distracted driving and walking aren't the sole reasons for the alarming rise in fatalities. Economic prosperity and low fuel prices mean we're driving more miles. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) estimates that Americans drove more than 3 trillion miles last year, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2014. Miles alone, however, do not account for the 10% increase in pedestrian deaths. Some of that increase is assuredly related to distraction.

In speaking with middle school students across the country as part of our End Distracted Driving (EndDD.org) educational campaign, we teach kids how to speak up when their drivers, usually mom and dad, drive distracted. We also cover distracted walking. Recently when speaking with about 150 8th graders in Maine, I asked how many had fallen or bumped into something while walking and looking at their phones. Almost every hand went up. Thankfully, the vast majority was only embarrassed but some students did suffer injuries. They said it was scary --thinking that drivers were distracted by their phones and kids were walking along streets and through intersections also distracted by their phones.

Clearly responsibility lies with both drivers and pedestrians to stop distraction-related deaths. I know my daughter Casey wasn't using her cell phone when she was killed. But I will never know if she tried to make eye contact with the driver or where she was looking just before she was struck. Here are some simple safety tips for pedestrians:

• Always check for traffic.
• Never assume you have the right of way or that a driver will stop. It's probably a good idea to assume that all drivers are distracted until you confirm otherwise.
• Don't cross the street until making eye contact with the driver.
• Put headphones and devices down when crossing the street.
• If you need to use a cell phone, stop walking and find a safe place to talk or use it.

Joel Feldman is an attorney in Philadelphia with the law firm of Anapol Weiss. After his daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver he obtained a masters in counseling and co-founded EndDD.org (End Distracted Driving) with his wife Dianne. EndDD.org has a network of speakers across the country and provides presentations without cost to schools. Joel can be reached at info@EndDD.org.